I love film writing.

When every city now boasts a plethora of film critics, ranging from newspaper journalists to bloggers and trade journal writers, it may not seem that film writing has any special connection to Chicago. Historically speaking, however, film criticism was born and raised in the Windy City.

In 1914, the Chicago Tribune ran the first motion picture review column, written by journalism’s first official film critic, Jack Lawson. According to A Million And One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture, his career as a movie critic was short lived, as he died in an accident at the Chicago Press Club (?!?) shortly after the inception of the column. He was succeeded by the popular and influential Kitty Kelly (a pseudonym for Audrie Alspaugh, who later moved to the Chicago Examiner) and then Mae Tinee (originally the pseudonym of Frances Smith, but later of many others). By 1925, there were 400 film critics writing for American newspapers.

Mae wrote many positive reviews of Louise Brooks movies.

One cannot discuss film criticism without mentioning the late, great Roger Ebert, who was not only a great Chicagoan but a hugely influential film writer on an international scale. The New York Times eulogized him as the first film writer to become a multi-media brand. In 1975, Ebert was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, marking Chicago as the city where he made the world take film writing seriously.

There are, of course, still movie critics in Chicago. Indeed, the Chicago Film Critics Association has over 60 members and mounts a film festival each year. Among their ranks are the podcasters of Filmspotting and the insightful film writer Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.


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